Giving Back

West Orange School District Brightens Holiday for Servicemen and Service Women

 Hazel students with Principal Dr. Ed Acevedo. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Liberty Middle School Helping Hands students and their cards. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Redwood students in teacher Jamie Hecht's class. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Edison Middle School student's card Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Suzanne Pennell and the carload of student holiday cards for the military. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
 Pleasantdale Office Admin Judy Sanzari gives cards to Mrs. Pennell. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Edison Middle School Art Teacher Melanie Racaniello with Pennell. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
 Dr. Acevedo, fourth grader Daniel Fajardo and Suzanne Pennell. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Redwood Principal Bruce Arcurio presents the cards to Mrs. Pennell. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Nearly 1,000 decorated, handwritten holiday cards are heading to troops overseas thanks to the students and staff of the West Orange School District.

The cards were created by and include personal notes from students in grades K-12. They will be sent out from Miramar Marine Corps Station in San Diego and several bases in North Carolina to servicemen and service women who are deployed aboard ships or overseas. Cards will also be sent to veterans in VA hospitals and airlifted to troops overseas in high-security areas through an organization called We Love Our Heroes.

Along with her friend Kathy Pigott of Roseland, West Orange resident Suzanne Pennell posted an appeal on a local Facebook page for needed supplies to send to the troops. She also mentioned how much the service men and women would appreciate cards, especially during the holidays.

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“My father was a Marine who served in Korea during the Korean War and my son Dylan is a Midshipman at the Naval Academy preparing to be a Surface Warfare officer after commissioning, so military appreciation runs strong in my family,” said Pennell.

“After posting our needs online, we had a few responses at first, but with the intervention of some wonderful friends, the word was spread and I was wonderfully deluged with donations from many West Orange residents,” she added.

Kindness is contagious,” said Charlotte Wescott or West Orange, who helped collect items for military. “What a lovely way to start the holiday season by saying thank you to the men and women who are so far from their families. Susanne Pennell started it all with a simple Facebook post. And people responded with such generosity, I am so happy to call West Orange my community.”

But the good news did not stop there. When the West Orange School District heard about the request for holiday greeting cards, Superintendent Jeff Rutzky contacted the principals in all 11 schools to ask for their help in making it happen in less than five days.

The response was nothing short of amazing, according to Pennell and West Orange Communications Coordinator Cynthia Cumming, who said they began receiving messages and calls to pick up the cards at the schools on Dec. 4.

“I am speechless over the heartwarming response from the West Orange Public Schools,” Pennell said.

“Thanks to Cynthia Cumming and Superintendent Rutzky, each school principal, the teachers, and the students who created beautiful cards and letters with words of support, encouragement and appreciation,” said Pennell. “Our young men and women in the military volunteer to serve our beloved country and its people, and sending out boxes of goodies and necessities and some warm greetings are the very least we can do. I am so proud of my town, its citizens and its public school staff and students.”

Perhaps the spirit of the effort was best summed up by a student from Edison Middle School, who hand-designed a pop-up card with an inside sentiment that read, “Believe in the good…it still exists.”

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